There is not much debate that I am a traditionalist, especially when it comes to the Indianapolis 500. Being a traditionalist requires a good bit of inflexibility. After all, if you calmly go with the flow without any griping or complaining – can you really and truly call yourself a traditionalist? We traditionalist like to gripe and complain about anything that changes something true to our heart – no matter if it’s a good idea or not.
There was a discussion on Trackside this past Tuesday night. Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee were neither condemning nor endorsing the topic. Instead, they were just throwing it out there. I’m curious to know how fans really feel about it. I know what my first reaction was. But after I simmered down, I figured it was at least worthy of a discussion.
The topic was the possibility of running the Indianapolis 500 at some point in prime-time. That’s code-speak for running it at night.
Of course, in order to hold it at night – lights would have to be installed. Most realistic estimates say that comes with a $20 million price tag. But for argument’s sake, let make the assumption that that will get done.
Being the traditionalist that I am, my first reaction on that topic is an emphatic No! Since 1911, every Indianapolis 500 has been run during the day. There is one side of me that says that’s the way God intended it to be and this point should not even be up for discussion. I was opposed to lights at Wrigley Field and thirty years later, night baseball on the north side of Chicago still seeems odd.
But there is another side of me that wants to see the Indianapolis 500 return to its rightful place on the American landscape. Last year’s 100th Running went a long way in restoring its former glory, but there is still a ways to go.
This year’s “500” is very important toward that goal, because it is the year after the milestone 100th Running. If TV ratings and attendance drop to the level of two years ago – or lower – we’ll know last year’s success was simply a result of the hype for such a milestone event. If there is a significant increase in either or both for the 101st Running over two years ago, we’ll know that things are trending in the right direction.
The question is, could the Indianapolis 500 really be jumpstarted by breaking tradition and doing something drastic? Holding the race at night would be drastic.
Skeptics will ask – What’s the point? The point could be potentially better attendance and better TV ratings. One obstacle would be that NASCAR owns Sunday night on Memorial Day weekend. Going up against the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday night would not be a good idea. The Indianapolis 500 would have to be run on Saturday night. I would say that the traditional pre-race ceremonies (and TV coverage) would have to start at 6:00pm local time with the drop of the green flag around 7:19pm. That means a normal race would be over around 10:30pm or slightly later.
My question is…what would a Saturday night race vs a Sunday afternoon race, do to TV ratings? I’ll be honest, I don’t know. It has been years and years since I spent the Saturday night of Memorial Day weekend at home. I have no idea what my TV viewing habits were back then. As I’ve gotten older, I’m always home on Saturday nights. But in my younger days, that was certainly not the case. As a single guy in my twenties, I was much more likely to be in front of a television on a Sunday afternoon than a Saturday night.
As an attending spectator, a night-time Indianapolis 500 might actually be more convenient. Under the current schedule, we get up at 4:30am to leave our hotel at 6:00am. We are generally inside the track by 6:30am in time to see the sun come up behind the Pagoda.
Why do we leave so early? Because I’ve had two nightmare scenarios in traffic over the past several years. I got outvoted by my group in 2006 and didn’t leave the hotel until 8:00am. Our hotel was much further out (in Greenwood) than where we stay now. We missed out on the (then) free parking in the infield and had to pay a small fortune for the chance to walk forever. We didn’t miss the start of the race, but we got there much later than I like. I was not pleasant to be around for a long while. In fact, the rest of my group (except for Susan) chose to walk on the other side of 16th Street to avoid my wrath.
In 2011, I had no one else to blame. I missed the normal exit and ended up in an industrial park somewhere north of town. I made the mistake of doubling back and somehow ended up in a residential section without moving for almost two hours. As we all were standing outside of our cars, I just knew I was going to miss the 100th Anniversary Running of the race. Miraculously we started moving and we found ourselves on 30th Street just north of the track. It’s the only time I’ve ever entered the track on Race Day from the north end.
It might be a lot easier on Susan’s nerves to have a 7:00pm start. That way, we could get to the track at a leisurely pace. We’d get in late Saturday, night but be able to sleep in Sunday morning. We could even cut our hotel stay from three to two nights; which may not go over so well with the gouging hotel industry.
But those are the views of one person – an overaged blogger from Nashville. Different people have different TV viewing habits and rituals when they go to the race. Traditions aside, I’m just not convinced that moving the Indianapolis 500 to prime-time Saturday night is such a good idea. I love night races, but I think I love the Indianapolis 500 in the daytime more.
The World Series lost something when it went to all prime-time games, but not viewers. There is a reason that the Super Bowl has kicked off at 6:20pm Eastern time for over a decade. It’s because that’s when the majority of viewers want to see it. Personally, I enjoyed the Super Bowls that kicked off around 1:00pm and it was still daylight when they were over, but what do I know? Will an Indianapolis 500 produce a lot more eyeballs on a Saturday night than on Sunday afternoon? That’s the million dollar question.
Whether you watch the race on TV every year or you’ve been going for the last thirty, I’d like to hear your thoughts. I’ve been selfish and looked at it from my standpoint and how it affected me. Tell me what you think. Tuesday night, Curt Cavin said a prime-time Indianapolis 500 would happen in his lifetime. He’s not that much younger than me, so he’s predicting it will probably happen in mine as well. Do you agree with that? I’m not so sure that I do. The traditionalist in me sure doesn’t.